City Council meeting discusses winter shelter options

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By Zoe Buchli

During the public comment period of the city council meeting on Monday, Feb. 11, community members addressed the Bellingham City Council and demanded the city do more to provide shelter for people experiencing homelessness when temperatures outside are below freezing.

Mayor Kelli Linville opened public comment with an update on the issue, saying the Lighthouse Mission Ministries, Fountain Community Church, Winter Haven and the Bellingham Public Library are providing different levels of service at different times.

“I feel like we have a variety of options for those of our residents that are unsheltered,” she said. “And we still have some capacity in those beds.”

She added that Winter Haven, a temporary encampment for the winter months set up by HomesNOW!, has been able to purchase vouchers to house its residents in hotels while temperatures remain below freezing, and HomesNOW! has secured a church further out in the county to shelter more people.  

Linville said no one has been turned away from the Lighthouse Mission Ministries, and the barriers for access at the mission are lower because of the weather.

In a Feb. 11 press release, Linville issued an emergency proclamation due to the winter storm conditions that began on Feb. 8. According to the press release, the proclamation enables the city to open a temporary shelter location if the mission reaches capacity.

The city is working on this contingency plan for an emergency shelter in case the number of available beds at the drop-in center run out, but finding staff for another facility is difficult, Linville said.

Councilmember April Barker said the Whatcom Transportation Authority is allowing people to stay on the bus and ride as long as they follow the rules of conduct, and is giving people free rides to shelter locations.

WTA would never deny someone who is in need of a ride to a shelter location as long as the location is on one of their fixed routes, WTA Community Relations and Marketing Manager Maureen McCarthy said.

Barker said WTA has also extended the hours of the downtown station and has parked a warming bus at its Cordata station.

Lighthouse Mission Ministries Associate Executive Director Bridget Reeves spoke during the public comment period and shared information about the status of the mission over the past week. She said because of a collapsed pipe, the mission has been without water for a week.

Because of the extreme conditions, there are extra people coming into the drop-in center and staff are stretched thin for providing services in the community, Reeves said.

Several community members experiencing homelessness as well as other community members spoke about the lack of safety and accessibility of the drop-in center.

“I was recently [at the drop-in center], and my stay wasn’t pleasant,” a Winter Haven resident said.

The resident said he had sentimental items stolen, and the drop-in center didn’t help him find mental health services in the ways HomesNOW! president Jim Peterson has.

Peterson said HomesNOW! has three outreach teams currently driving around town picking up people and two 15-passenger vans taking people to a HomesNOW! shelter they have set up on Smith Road.

The Smith Road shelter is about 10 people from capacity, Peterson said.  

“I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know how many times in the last year and nine months I’ve said people will not go to the drop-in center,” he said. “I’m not saying shut the drop-in center down it’s bad, or the mission’s bad, I’m saying we need other options.”

He said he has 17 Winter Haven residents living in motels until this Thursday, when the funding HomesNOW! has will run out.

“I’m begging you, I’m pleading, open something tonight,” he said.

A Western student experiencing homelessness said she has received no assistance from Western, the city or the mission, and has been living out of her van and unable to find a shelter in the extreme cold.

“If you want to say there’s misinformation going around, that no one is going to be turned away, well that’s not true. I was turned away,” she said.

HomesNOW! is the only organization that has offered her assistance, she said.

“[The city] needs to offer emergency assistance in these extreme conditions, not just long-term assistance,” she said. “You need to offer alternatives to the mission because people do not feel safe going there. I do not feel safe going there.”

HomesNOW! volunteer Rachel Duval said she has been driving people around in vans

to the shelters to help them stay warm.

“The citizens of Bellingham should not be the ones out here busting our butts trying to save people,” she said. “I thought that was a community effort, I thought [that] was part of the city, but the people are doing it right now.”

Lighthouse Mission Ministries Executive Director Hans Erchinger-Davis responded to the public comments saying people need to trust the Mission.

“I know that many have experienced incredible wounding in their lives, which makes being able to trust again really difficult,” he said. “But you can’t heal emotionally, spiritually, physically or mentally if you’re continually being told you can’t trust city leadership.”

He said the people on the ground, where the immediate impact is, need to promote trust in the institutions that are in place to help people.

Bellingham resident Brenda Bentley was one of the last people to speak during public comment period.

“I feel like [the city has] had so many opportunities here to prove yourselves as leaders, as problem solvers, as an entity that embraces community dialogue, and you have failed,” she said. “We know winter comes every year, is this the kind of infrastructure we have set up? This is really problematic.”

2 comments

  • Hang on, thanks to WTA for their help, but April Barker (owner of many overpriced rentals) thinks that buses are a real solution for the homeless. Has she ever spent a night at a bus terminal? Guess what, it sucks. Hang on though guys, she’s about to give another speech about how much she cares about women and minorities, I guess unless they’re homeless that is, and can’t afford one of her rentals. What a hypocrite.
    Also, Hans says we should trust city officials when he himself is sitting on a broken water pipe that the city’s public works department could have rapidly repaired under emergency conditions, but didn’t. Hans must know that the council, mayor and public works director would never repair a water pipe for the homeless, even though many of the lower level workers (aka the people that actually do the work) would have been happy to. So yes Hans, we don’t trust city officials because they have proven to be UNTRUSTWORTHY! That’s their fault for being awful people. No one made them do that, they chose to.
    Man Hans, what planet do you live on that you don’t see the evil and greed coming out of this administration? Would Jesus put people on buses when usable abandoned buildings are next door? Would Jesus have asked how wealthy the owners of those buildings were and asked a corrupt mayor for permission to use them when people were freezing to death. I know, I know, even the mayor has to ask her owners, that own the buildings, if they can be used first. Remember, she couldn’t have become mayor without lots of corrupt campaign money flowing in from developers.
    Also, Western can’t help homeless students? Like any old, state, university they have lots of empty space. Their current president makes over $300 grand a year. Can’t he lend his yacht out for a month or so? It’s like the whole town is run by awful, greedy, wealthy people. Oh wait, it is.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtgfzzwoyK4
    Note: The current homeless population is at least 1,200 individuals and this administration caused this problem by creating high priced housing and have no public solutions to it. Their top priority was always to take public money and give it to their wealthy developer friends. The landlord/developer cartel.
    High housing prices increase homelessness and many of your council members, and your mayor, are landlords.
    They are always trying to tire and distract us. Get us to “settle for nothing now and settle for nothing later.” Most of the people of Bellingham are good, honest, hard-working people. We need a government that represents us. This is NOT it.
    My God, Mayor Linville really is a master of Bullshit Artistry. Notice how she fails to mention that the homeless population has been growing, the City Council has been mostly ignoring the problem for at least 5 years because they don’t care, and that the beds she mentions are all at places that are usually at capacity.
    Also, none of those places have enough beds, and most are religious. For example, Lighthouse Mission has stated that their main goal is to save the soul, not help the homeless, so if you’re not Christian, and are vocal about it, you can GTFO. They have an approx. 150 bed capacity. Fountain Community church has even less capacity, and although Winter Haven is a step in the right direction it is a tent city for about 30 people, that should have been tiny homes housing at least another 150.
    All of these problems are caused by the mayor and city council who represent the very wealthy who make their money off of overcharging us for housing. They make no real attempts to control this with public infrastructure and housing and never will.
    Still, the mayor/council very skillfully forget to mention the numbers and specifics, or the fact that they didn’t care for at least 5 years. The City itself has access to publily owned buildings that have been vacant for many years like The Lignin which are 10,000 plus sq. foot spaces. The council has blown this off for years, and if it wasn’t for Port Commissioner Michael Shepard, no action would be being taken on anything good for the public like re-use of these spaces for homelessness, or broadband, the list goes on.
    The Library also does NOT have enough space.
    In fact, I guarantee you that the upper-echelon Corporate Democrats, and the landlord/developer cartel they represent, want the problem to get worse so they can justify having an unnecessary multi-million dollar facility built, just like the unnecessary jail. This administration is all about stealing public money and giving it to the private sector. Just like when they stole $1 million from tax payers and gave it and public fiber to AT&T, while telling the public that the same fiber-optic cabling wasn’t usable. Just like they’re trying to do in the new Democrats “housing bill” which makes no mention of re-using vacant spaces or public housing. The only thing that will actually control the cost of rent. We are at 206% of the national average for housing cost. Building some more condos will have little or no effect on that because the landlords can still charge whatever the hell they want.
    This council/mayor need to be replaced, not commended. They are sociopaths that only care about money. Dan Hamill, Kelli Linville, and April Barker all make their money off of overcharging people for housing. Do you really think they care about poor minorities, diversity, and freedoms? Of course not. It’s just a ruse to keep stealing from you via your necessities.
    We have literally had people freeze to death because of their inaction, but look at what a skillful politician Linville is. She says that the homeless have options, because she thinks you won’t do the math. She doesn’t want you to remember that most of the homeless population happens to be males from our minority communities. Shhhhhhh….
    Vouchers are NOT permanent housing or a permanent solution. It’s just a way to give more money to private entities, like hotel conglomerates, instead of building real solutions. Sure, it’s way better than nothing for now but even that solution isn’t enough. As long as we are pursing private only development bills, like the latest Whatcom Democrats Housing bill which has no mention of public housing and is just a cash grab of tax money which is being funneled to wealthy developers, we will have hundreds of people freezing on our streets for no good reason. Look to the East Coast, they have these things called homeless shelters. That run at cost!
    Here is a shot list of multi-million dollar projects they pushed or approved over the last 5 years while letting people freeze on the streets.
    1. Paid a $3 million ransom to Trillium corporation for use of bicycle trails.
    2. Pushed an unecessary $110 million dollar jail, even ran a special candidate named Richey to push it again after it was defeated.
    3. Dumped $130 million into a mercury contaminated Waterfront and didn’t even clean it up.
    4. Gave $1 million in Corporate welfare to AT&T and access to publicly owned fiber-optic cabling.
    5. Paid the mayor, public works director, and IT directors a combined total of approx. half a million dollars a year while they were doing this to us.
    6. Wrote a Greenways bill, that originally, tried to sneak 67% of its funding to the Waterfront for non-Greenways development.
    7. Approved a $3.5 million bus barn. Those buses are cold after all guys.
    8. They raised property taxes, but stopped even plowing the roads. They even removed funding for personal development for teachers.
    …. This list goes on. I’m happy to provide more examples. The point is that this mayor/council and their upper echelon they hired, like public works director Ted Carlson, don’t care about you at all. It’s time we understand that, replace them, and move forward.
    It’s time for real solutions and to put this council in jail and treat them like the criminals they are.

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